Saturday, July 28, 2012

July - a no-blog zone?

It's the middle of winter, which would normally see me staying home with the heating turned up and not venturing out for anything. I'm a bit of a winter hibernator... My life had other ideas for this particular July, though, and the month has flown past in a blur.

There's been a spurt of quite ridiculous work activity, which has not helped my mental health one little bit - but the less said about that, the better. 

Here's some of the more fun stuff I've been up to:

Bike Boy scored free tickets to the premier performance of a stage show: Grievous Angel, which is on now at the Atheneum. It's based around the life and music of Gram Parsons, of whom I had never actually heard - although it turns out, I did know some of his songs. 

So we changed our usual Friday night routine of relaxing at home with a movie and instead headed into the city for an evening out. We popped into MoVida Next Door for tapas and a couple of these:

Admired the street art in Hosier Lane:

And stopped at Brunetti in the city square for coffee and dessert:

The show was great - Jordy Lane is a talented performer, and I enjoyed it way more than I expected to.

We had a Saturday night out the following weekend to help a young lady, to whom I happen to be godmother, celebrate her 21st birthday. A chance to dress up and a catch-up with old friends is always fun. And look how well she turned out - that's all down to my influence, of course. ;)

I managed to score an invite to a lovely morning tea at Crown Towers, hosted by Twinings. It was on a weekday, but I did not let that get between me and a free high tea. No way, Jose.

The instant I stepped off the train at Flinders St, I regretted not bringing my camera. *sigh* The phone would have to do. So I snapped a few shots of the cityscape...

...and of course, the obligatory food shots:

I have to say, this was a very well-run product launch. No hard-sell, boring lecture about the product - just the very personable Mr Stephen Twining himself, sharing his passion for tea and offering some interesting facts about tea and tea-making. The food was fabulous (as was the tea, of course) and we got to take home a goodie bag stuffed with a range of Twining's teas.

Best of all, we got to mix up our very own personal blend of teas and take it home in a pretty glass jar. Of which I completely forgot to take a photo, and now it's sitting on my desk at work. Oh well.

I have managed to get outdoors and do a little photography. I've developed an interest in the local birds, and have grabbed a few reasonable shots of some, like this Little Black Cormorant, parked on a log in the billabong:

There's been some sunshine amongst the cloudy and rainy conditions too:

And sunsets can still look pretty on grey days, especially over water:

Tonight I'm off to a ball, so I'm hoping for a fairy godmother to appear and do a Cinderella on me this afternoon. Of course it's more likely that that I'll just have to dash from nail salon to hairdresser to the shops for some last minute "thing" I've forgotten, then home to do my own makeup, throw on my frock and be in a complete tizz by the time our driver arrives to pick us up.

Depending on how well my fairy godmother performs, there may be photos....

There. Blogging just about all caught up. You're welcome.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

No-junk July

It's July already? Where did those last six months go? O_O

This month I've joined Liz and a few other bloggers in a bit of a challenge: No-junk July. I'm focusing mainly on food, but the no-junk approach can be applied to other areas of your life too. Frankly, I just don't have time for any major clean-ups right now, so I'm keeping my challenge simple.

I joined in a day late, as by the time I became aware of the challenge on Sunday, I was on my second glass of wine and there may have been some ice cream in the freezer with my name on it. *ahem*

So my aim is to cut out any "junk" in terms of chocolate, cake, alcohol and the like, plus avoid processed foods, which tend to contain their own kind of "junk" in the form of preservatives, colours, trans fats and other less than desirable ingredients.

So far, so good.


School holidays started this week, which normally means a reduction in the stress of the morning rush because I don't have to nag a kid out of bed, or detour via the school and I can leave for work earlier. As it happens though, The Baby has been rostered on at his part time job for 7:00am starts. O_o  So, I'm leaving home at 6:30am and arriving at work before the sun's even appeared over the horizon.

On the plus side, I'm rapidly knocking down my overdrawn flex time, I'm far more productive first thing before all the distracting people arrive/ring/email and the lighter traffic means I'm cutting half an hour off my trip.

Not quite my dream job:

But I couldn't have the cupcakes in no-junk July anyway, so it's probably just as well.

Blogging is on the back burner until I get my routine back to some semblance of normality, so I may be more absent than present for the rest of the week...


Monday, July 02, 2012

Exploring further afield

One of the major reasons we chose our little housing estate over the many others in the area was that it's surrounded on three sides by state-owned parkland. There are some pockets of undisturbed bush along the river, but most of the open space is reclaimed farmland. Parks Victoria have been working for years to turn the land into useable public space amongst quite large conservation areas. 

On the weekend I discovered that the fenced-off conservation area that forms the largest part of the parkland has been opened for public access. Bike Boy now tells me it's been open for ages - I knew he goes mountain biking in there, but I just thought he was sneaking in....

So I went for a good old ramble and discovered a big lake, with at least six pairs of swans and a pair of cormorants, as well as the usual coots, mallards and other water fowl:

This is actually a disused quarry pit, but doesn't strike me as commercial-sized. The original property owner would most likely have been quarrying either bluestone or clay for bricks. I'm guessing bluestone for farm buildings.

I thought I'd walk around the lake, but it's pretty big and the terrain is hard going, so I ended up only going about a quarter of the way around. Another time...

The low-lying areas are natural wetlands and an extensive tree-planting program plus the addition of nesting boxes have turned these swampy areas into ideal breeding grounds for the birds.
Nice sunny conditions....

....but those clouds look threatening.

I beat the rain home, but only just. The bonus was spotting the park's pair of resident wedgetail eagles soaring overhead as I headed back. 

Next time I'll take my camera - I noticed the battery was flat a few days earlier but stupidly forgot to charge it, so the phone had to suffice for these pics. Maybe I can even catch a shot of the eagles with my telezoom, who knows?


Sunday, July 01, 2012

We can do that! (Kitchen edition)

On Friday I attended an end of financial year celebratory lunch. Kind of a "Let's all heave a sigh of relief that the pressure of stupidly short deadlines is over for another year" thing. Somebody booked us into Red Spice Road, which is in McKillop Street, a little lane off Bourke Street. 

I can't say I'd ever ventured down this narrow lane between the office blocks before.

The decor was impressive....

...and cosy, a nice contrast to the cold and wet conditions outside.

The food is south-east Asian with a modern take. There was a large group of us and we shared a banquet, and the stand-out dish was the pork belly with apple slaw and chilli caramel. Everyone raved about it, and there was a bit of discussion around how it was cooked, as the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, yet crisp on the outside. I knew Bike Boy would love it and could not believe my luck when I discovered the recipe online.

The recipe was a bit complex, with several stages to it, but of course, Bike Boy saw that as a challenge and decided we'd give it a go for dinner the next day. So on Saturday morning he set out to pick up the few ingredients we didn't have on hand - tapioca starch, a specialised Asian black vinegar, shiso leaves and extra star anise, plus a large piece of pork belly. (I had no idea what Master Stock was, but it turns out he had some stashed in the freezer.) 

If you like good food and enjoy cooking, I highly recommend giving this a go - but do it over two days. The pork needs to be cooked in stock in the oven for four hours and then chilled before moving onto the next step. The chilli caramel would also be best made ahead. 

The end result was sensational. We nailed it - it turned out just like my lunch the previous day, and we both LOVED it.

Pork belly in chilli caramel

Apple slaw with nuoc cham

A match made in heaven!
It's not a quick throw-it-together meal, but one that's definitely worth the effort when you have time to spare - a kitchen hand would be helpful too. I made the chilli caramel, the salad and dressing, Bike Boy was in charge of the several steps involved in cooking the pork as well as the rice.

It would knock the socks off dinner guests. Hot tender pork with a thin crisp fried crust, the heat and sweetness of the chilli caramel, the coolness of the crisp salad, the sourness of the lime/fish sauce dressing make for perfectly balanced sweet/sour/salty/hot flavours.

I don't know what other people do on Saturday nights, but we had a ball creating this culinary masterpiece together whilst enjoying a couple of vinos. I think I have a new favourite dish. Kylie Kwong's lamb shanks have been de-throned. Sorry Kylie...